Recovering from mental illness is fragile

There are days, weeks, even months, when I forget I have a mental illness. Days when my mood is soaring and I am wearing my cloak of invincibility, nothing able to penetrate my unassailable self. Days when the handful of psychiatric meds I take are as anodyne as swallowing nothing more sinister than vitamins and supplements. Days when I wonder whether I still need them.

Then there are the days when the meds are a daily reminder of the constant struggle to keep the black dog at bay. When I wake shrouded in a fog of grey and my mind grinds slowly, every thought laboured. When my gait is slow and cumbersome as if I’m wading through a sea of molasses. These are the days when the meds earn their keep.

Even though I’ve been on medication for over ten years, the side effects are ever present, another reminder of my illness poking me in the ribs. Trouble sleeping, weight gain and nausea just to name a few plus an emotional numbness which has taken away my capacity to cry.

I cried for the first time in years this week after I read about Danny Frawley’s suicide. Tragic as it was, it wasn’t so much the death itself but the reasons why he took his life that made me cry. His wife said, “The road leading up to last Monday's events began eight months ago when Danny made the decision to take himself off his prescribed medication. At this point Danny felt invincible … he felt that he had beaten the disease”.

As I read that sentence, the quiet tears trickling down my face turned to heaving sobs. I don’t think Molly the cat had ever seen me cry. She sat next to me, perched on the sofa, her ears cocked, peering at her human making strange gulping noises.

My tears weren’t for Danny Frawley. They were for me. I knew too well what it was like to go off meds after a sustained period of wellness. A feeling of being bullet proof, believing mental illness would never touch me again. But as I sobbed, I also knew from my relapses that you never “beat” the disease. It’s not a battle to be won or lost. It’s a condition to be managed and I have learned to accept my medication is a necessary evil.

As I cried, I couldn’t help but think it could have been me, it could have been me. It could still be me. There are no guarantees despite every measure I take to stay well. And as I cried, Molly sidled into my lap, her whiskers grazing my arm, her head nuzzling against my chest. I drew strength from her warmth and comfort and in that moment I knew I would be okay. For now.

Frawley’s death is a stark reminder of the fragility of life and recovery. It’s a reminder never to take it for granted. Keep close to the ones you love who are shadowed by the black dog and stay vigilant for any cracks that appear. In the aftermath of the last few days, I’m keeping a close watch on mine. So is Molly.